This Spring Training May Be Worthwhile

It was announced this week that the IZOD IndyCar Series would be hosting Spring Training at Sebring during the week of March 5. In 2009, I attended the road course portion of Spring Training. They spent a few days testing on the oval at Homestead, then moved north to run for a few days at Barber Motorsports Park, before Barber had been added to the schedule. That was my first visit to Barber. The weather was warm for early March and it was good to see (and hear) IndyCars again; but other than that – it was about as entertaining as a root canal. I say that as if I know what I’m talking about. Actually, I’ve never had a root canal – but I’ve heard they’re no fun.

Now, I am one that really doesn’t need to be entertained at a racetrack. If there are cars running, I’m happy. If it’s raining and there are cars being worked on in the paddock, I’m happy – so long as I can meander about the grounds and get an occasional whiff of ethanol, which doesn’t smell near as captivating as methanol. If none of those things are going on, I’m still happy to feast on the trackside junk food and have a cold beer (or two), so long as there is even the slightest possibility that cars may be running again soon.

The same could not be said for my companions that day; blogger Susan Scruggs and her son, Eric, who was still eighteen at the time. Susan and Eric are both racing fans, although they aren’t as obsessed with it as I am. That day, I think Susan was content to sit in a lawn chair overlooking the final set of turns before the main straightaway – not because it was a good vantage point to see the cars, but because it offered the greatest angle in which to catch some sun.

Eric, on the other hand, was in one of those surly moods that only a parent of teenagers can understand. In my mind, there was no better way to spend a Sunday afternoon in March – not even watching college basketball. Knowing that Eric was a race fan, I was certain he shared my bliss. Apparently, he did not. Instead, he made sure to position his lawn chair far away from ours and proceeded to text away the entire afternoon, possibly without looking up from his phone  one single time. I feel quite certain he wasn’t trying to make his friends feel jealous by the way he was spending half of his weekend.

It made Susan a little uncomfortable and it solidified my standing as a grumpy old man – as I grumbled about my feelings of this generation. The tension continued in the car on the way back to Nashville. What should have been a perfect day was spoiled by teenage moodiness. Fortunately, his bad mood had completely evaporated by the time Indianapolis rolled around.

Anyway, the reason for this rambling bit of nothingness is not to spawn another rant against teenagers. Instead, it is to serve as a warning to anyone thinking about going to Spring Training. Unless you are a die-hard race fan, it can be rather dull. Even then, it can be a little monotonous.

This year may be an exception. With teams trying to sort out the new DW12, this year Spring Training could actually be very interesting – and entertaining. As teams start testing their own cars for the first time over the next couple of months, it’ll be interesting to see who figures it and who doesn’t. Plus, by the time the teams reach Sebring in March – the disparity among engine manufacturers will have become evident.

The spin coming out of pre-season testing is always fun to dissect and listen to. If a team is near the top of the charts, they are all smiles and talk about what a great season they are going to have. If speeds are down, it is explained away with a few harrumphs and phrases like “We weren’t looking for speed, we were testing all sorts of setups”; or the always clever “The first race is three weeks away. We’ll have everything sorted out by then”. You can always tell desperation when one of the top teams leaves a test no better than mid-pack. They resort to scoffing at the lesser teams ahead of them on the speed charts comparing the session to a meaningless NFL pre-season game. Of course, the big teams are always the ones on top at the end of each season, so there may be something to that NFL analogy.

This is probably the most important Spring Training that the IZOD IndyCar Series has had since they adopted the idea from CART a few years ago. With new cars and new engines and limited track time prior to Sebring – it will be crucial that the teams maximize their time to try and find the sweet spot in the setup. This will be as important heading into the road/street courses in March and April as the Month of May will be leading up to the first oval at Indianapolis.

So if you’re a die-hard IndyCar fan and you’ve got lots of time to kill, head on down to Sebring. There will be plenty of cars whizzing by and you’ll get your craving for racing appeased for a little bit. But if you’ve got any teenagers with you, be prepared to be reminded that they have the attention span of a gnat. Even if they claim to be race fans, anything short of sitting at IMS on Race Day will bore them. You’ve been warned.

George Phillips

4 Responses to “This Spring Training May Be Worthwhile”

  1. Bent Wickerbill Says:

    I currently live in the Savannah GA. area, but I had lived in Melbourne FL for 15 years up until last February and attended many races at both St. Pete and Homestead, I even attended some Skip Barber and Star Mazda races at Sebring and Daytona.
    It would figure that they would decide to test the new car in Sebring this March…

  2. If it wasn’t so far away I would be there. I can’t think of a better way to spend a care-free Sunday afternoon and I know that my son would enjoy seeing the cars as well as all of the hub-bub in the garage area. You can’t beat track food either! 😉

    • Brian McKay Says:

      Don’t count on track food as at a race weekend. These are test sessions to which race teams bring their chow and any fence-hangers ought to do the same (or dine in Sebring).
      When I resided near Tampa, I’d drive to Sebring to watch teams test, ’cause I was a die-hard fan. 2009 I was overseas & thus unable to go to BMP. Last year, I was wrapped-up in work and night school, so I didn’t drive 5.5 hours to BMP. This year, I won’t drive from Florida panhandle to Sebring alone except to view the 12 Hours of Sebring.

  3. Ya, would love to be there but it’s about 3500 miles away. If it were close, maybe…but if I read correctly it’s gonna be Monday thru Friday, and I’ve got this ‘work’ thing to take care of.
    Any opportunity to be at the racetrack with the cars on an active day is fun for me. Used to be that I knew a number of guys wrenching on cars, now perhaps only two or three, and it’s been quite a while since I’ve gotten to hang around there, so it probably wouldn’t be quite the same. And I’d have to go alone or with my adult son, who’s the only other Indy car addict in the family. The new wife just wouldn’t appreciate it the way we do…
    Hoping to make the trek to Long Beach in April.

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